Life in Newburgh on Ythan

By Talpa

The Leper Lily

'tis the season of the snake's head fritillary Fritillaria meleagris, a wondrous lily native to Britain. 

The flower has several other common names including simply snake's head (the original English name), chess flower, frog-cup, guinea-hen flower, leper lily (because its shape resembled the bell once carried by lepers), and the Lazarus bell.

I think that it is a most beautiful flower, but other might not. For instance, Vita Sackville-West, novelist, poet, exuberant aristocrat and co-creator of the glorious gardens at Sissinghurst Castle in Kent, called it "a sinister little flower, in the mournful colour of decay." She was even more damning in her 1926 publication The Land:

"And then I came to a field where the springing grass
Was dulled by the hanging cups of fritillaries,
Sullen and foreign-looking, the snaky flower,
Scarfed in dull purple, like Egyptian girls
Camping among the furze, staining the waste
With foreign colour, sulky-dark and quaint, ...."

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